Towering over South Saginaw Street in downtown Pontiac is a brown brick building with original Moorish architecture but an art deco South Beach paint wash. The indication of the weekly raucous dance parties that take place inside is evident by the neon-lit facade and 4-foot-tall neon sign that reads “Elektricity.”
Glowing bright, fluorescent blue on weekend nights, the marquee is a beacon to all those who wish to dance, to those who love electronic dance music, and to those who just can’t get enough of lights, confetti, and pounding bass.
Drive by on any given Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday and you’ll see the lively crowd the club attracts, usually already lined up outside the venue’s doors by 10 p.m. On a chilly evening, you’ll catch girls in furry boots, neon tops, and pink tutus running for respite from the cold, knowing that as soon as they enter, even their minimal clothing will be too much for the sweaty dance party that’s taking place inside.
Open for nearly three years, Elektricity might be a new venue, but its past is steeped in history, having come up from the original techno scene that was born right here in Detroit. While you won’t find his name in any Wikipedia entries or other histories following the Detroit-born genre, co-owner Amir’s part in the birthing of the genre goes as far back as when Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May, and Juan Atkins started spinning at the Music Institute in the late ’80s, where Amir had his after-hours club, Asylum, across the street.
“We worked with Carol Marvin and Carl Craig to book the first Detroit Electronic Music Festivals,” he says. “I’ve been involved with this type of music since Day One.”
Touching on Movement’s current promoters and bookers, Amir notes his tight relationship with Jason Huvaere.
“The Paxahau guys, those guys are fucking amazing,” he says. “Jason started with me 19, 20 years ago.”
Having owned nightclubs such as St. Andrew’s, Industry, and Clutch Cargo’s, Amir also hosted those founding artists and their descendants when the genre was just forming. His understanding of the music and its evolution is paramount to the success of Elektricity.
Chatting with Amir is like getting a crash course in the techno and electronic music scene. He tells us about the companies that predated Live Nation and what electronic music looked like before EDM.
Today, the EDM game is much different than in those early days, however, and while electronic dance music has exploded, spawned new subgenres, and reached new and varied audiences, Amir and his team have managed to stay at the top, continuing to evolve to fit the tastes of EDM lovers.
While history is important, Amir’s focus remains on the future. Visiting several electronic music festivals a year, Amir and his team stay on top of trends in both music and venue vibe. Having just returned from Spring Awakening, an annual electronic music festival in Chicago, he says their goal is to deliver a festival-like feeling to club-goers, which can be hard to do at an indoor venue.
A combination of confetti cannons, pyro blasters, and fog machines helps create the feeling that clubbers are dancing on grassy lawns during a warm summer night, and the combined effect of lasers, intelligent lighting, and state-of-the-art sound creates an atmosphere that makes it hard not to get up and dance. In fact, a peek inside the club shows few wallflowers. Dancers pack the floor, communing in a way that feels friendly rather than predatory, fun rather than rapacious.
“We understand our fan base and we know what they want,” Amir says. “Music is ever-evolving, and this club has evolved. Technology is changing all the time, and we stay on top of it by having the latest sound, lights, and lasers.”
Though industrial touches have been added to Elektricity’s space, Amir is clear that he never overtly alters an edifice one of his venues is in. The pairing of past and present is paramount; it’s what this music is all about.
Modern amenities draw big names, and some that Amir is most proud of include Calvin Harris, Benny Benassi, Zedd, Krewella, Diplo, Madeon, Bingo Players, Paul Oakenfold, Wolfgang Gartner, Bad Boy Bill, and Fedde Le Grand.
“These artists have played at festivals around the world, from Electric Daisy Carnival to Tomorrowland,” Amir says. “Elektricity has been graced by their presence and passion by having them live at our venue, sometimes on multiple occasions. They’ve helped to expand the realm of possibility for electronic dance music in metro Detroit and across the world.”
While big names are a draw for the club, they’re also known for weekly parties like Glo-Out, a night were guests can get painted by in-house body artists with glow-in-the-dark paints; Elektric Circus, an evening that features burlesque dancers, stilt walkers, and fire performers; and Bass Mission, an occasion on which dancers can enjoy the thumping bass of artists like Konkrete Jungle and Dakota.
To continue that evolution without disrupting what’s happening at Elektricity, Amir says he plans to open a new club downtown. While no definite date is set for its opening, he says the club will appeal to an older crowd, between 25 and 35 and will be totally different than the Pontiac venue.
One thing you’ll never see change about the businesses Amir spearheads (he also has a hand in Imperial and Public House, among other successful local restaurants), is their location. While they’ve been as far south as Detroit and as far north as Pontiac, all have been situated along the Woodward corridor.
“Location, location, location,” says Amir. “That’s been a big factor in our success.”
Of course, Amir’s deft hand and willingness to keep up with the times doesn’t hurt either.
A new addition to their roster of events, and one that promises to provide a heaping helping of what Elektricity’s fans are looking for, the inaugural edition of Divine Playground will take over the streets in front of Elektricity, spilling inside, and offering an afterparty with some big, big names.
The foam versus paint party, which Amir notes is modeled after the foam parties that take place in Ibiza, kicks off at 4 p.m. on Thursday, July 3, featuring Caked Up, DJ Troublemaker, Maci Delaghetto, and the Chainsmokers. Running until 11 p.m., the event will be followed by an afterparty featuring the Crystal Method.
With big names on their roster on a weekly basis, Divine Playground promises to be yet another successful venture for Amir and Elektricity. As always, it’s the attention paid to the patrons and the details that keeps both on top.
“Elektricity is in it for the music and for the fans,” says Amir. “And for the shared experience that complements their lifestyle.”